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Flexible Tension, Continued

Many readers have been writing in on their issues with tension control, some saying their tension is too tight, others it's too loose. Another tension-related issue that's quite common is raised in this message we received from Nicole:

"My question is: Why do I seem to be able to get an accurate gauge horizontally, but not vertically? In my latest project (which I guess I'll pull out again), I thought the gauge started out right, but when I finished the first piece, it measured exactly right horizontally, but was only 13 1/4 inches vertically when it should have been 14 inches. I'll try going up a hook size, but I'm afraid that it will be too wide then. Any suggestions? Am I doing something wrong? Or maybe I'm the only one to have this problem? Any ideas or suggestions you have would be greatly appreciated. Thank you!"

This is a great question, Nicole! The heights of stitches are definitely related to control of tension, and it's a great place to start learning how to improve.

If your row gauge is consistently shorter than what you find in patterns, experiment with making your stitches taller. How is that done? Easy! After inserting the hook in whatever stitch you're working into, draw up a loop. That particular loop, the one right after the insertion of the hook, is the one that largely determines the height of the stitch. Pull up that loop a lot more than you normally do and then complete the stitch as usual. You will see that your stitches get taller, and you'll be able to meet row gauge.

To break it down further: For a single crochet stitch: Insert hook in designated stitch and draw up a loop -- THIS LOOP -- pull it up to 1/2 inch! It will look something like this:

Click here for larger image

Then yarn over, draw through 2 loops to complete the stitch.

For a double crochet stitch: Yarn over, insert hook in designated stitch and draw up a loop -- THIS LOOP -- pull it up to 1/2 inch. Here's how that will look:

Click here for larger image

To complete the stitch (yarn over, draw through 2 loops) twice.

Are you getting the idea? Of course, when I say to pull it up 1/2 inch, that's just a ballpark measurement; it needn't be precise. The point is to pull it up significantly more than you normally do. The same strategy can be used to make half double or treble crochet stitches taller. Stitches can be made a variety of heights, not only by using a taller stitch -- a treble instead of a double, for example -- but by working the crucial loop more loosely. Tall stitches are a good thing for two reasons: first, they look nice, and second, they lend more drape to the fabric. For projects where the opposite of drape is needed -- structure and stiffness -- shorter stitches are preferable. The point is, the crocheter can decide just how tall she wants her stitches to be by understanding where to exert more or less tension while making the stitch.

Here's a little swatch where the first two rows of double crochet stitches are worked tall, in the manner I've described, and the next two rows are worked without that extra pull. You can see on the ruler that it does make a difference in gauge. Keep in mind, I used the same hook throughout, but changed the gauge by controlling the amount of tension.

Click here for larger image

Here's another swatch where the stitch pattern is enhanced because the stitches are worked tall:

Click here for larger image

For those who crochet tightly, I urge you to start with the lesson above to see if you can make your stitches taller. Please don't try this on a project when you make your first attempt. Instead, make a separate little swatch and work very slowly and deliberately. Remember, motor skills come slowly, so relax and don't stress; just give yourself time to learn.

The emails keep pouring in on the topic of flexible tension, so we'll write more about it in future newsletters!

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